INTEGRATION – THE WHOLE PICTURE

When something breaks up and falls parts we say it has disintegrated. Conversely we might describe someone who stays true to themselves and their values and principals as having integrity. An object that maintains its basic form even if it has been impacted in some way has retained its integrity and if another object becomes usefully joined to it we say it has been integrated into the other.

In psychotherapy, integration can be thought of as the process of incorporating a new way of being in the world so that we feel it becomes a part of us and we feel somehow different, changed and that we have grown. It has become embodied. How does this complex process happen?

As therapy unfolds a person who has parts of themselves they have denied, rejected and therefore that exist out of their awareness, begins to see the need for integration. A feeling of being somehow conflicted and as if they are hijacked by their own responses to events around them, without some central control, will likely give rise to problems in relationships and a loss of trust in oneself which is another way of saying a loss of confidence.

We all have a sense that in different contexts, across the different roles we are called to play in life, we can feel and behave quite differently. From family to friends and the work place, different personas enable us to adapt to the varying demands of a complex life but often they do not coexist in harmony. As you read this you might be aware of which parts of yourself you prefer to deny or hide from others, even from yourself.

A psychotherapeutic process that enables integration is where the different parts of a person are facilitated to get to know each other. For example, a man who felt constantly humiliated and inadequate in the presence of an intimidating boss, came to therapy with very low self-esteem. He resented the part of him that was unable to assert himself with anyone he saw as being an authority figure, feeling childlike and helpless. We got to work helping him understand that this ‘weak person within’ that he despised, had grown up terrified of his father’s violent temper and ruthless discipline. I asked him to start relating to the petrified child by imagining he was really there with us in the room. What would this child want to hear to feel encouraged and supported to find his voice rather than withdrawing passively.

This process of integrating a part that had been rejected led to a change in the way this man could assert himself. He was less concerned about concealing what he perceived as his weakness, and with renewed energy and courage could stand up for himself better.

 

GAINING PERSPECTIVE

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” Bertrand Russell

Having not long returned from a summer holiday I have been struck by the importance of getting some distance from one’s life and climbing out of the rutted track that the daily routines of life forge into the psyche.

Away from what has become habitual, a new awareness emerges about simple day-to-day activities. Eating was something I could take time to enjoy. Wandering aimlessly through sleepy Spanish back streets, without a deadline to meet, I could actually take in what was around me, heightening my awareness of how, in the day-to-day routines of my working life, I move so quickly and efficiently from one place to another, marshaling all my physical and psychological energy to steer the most effective path from tube to street, street to office. The habits that form the structure of a busy working life appear somewhat ridiculous from a different perspective.

Stepping off the ‘hamster wheel’ of one’s life at regular, even if only brief intervals, ensures that the neural circuitry of the brain is not becoming welded into narrow paths that lead to us living life on autopilot. It is true that we need routine and structure to provide stability, but conversely we also need variety and spontaneity so that our lives do not become too predictable and rigid.

“Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!” Jane Austen, from ‘Emma’

WORLDS APART AND COLLIDING

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HOW DIFFERENCES CAN MAKE AND BREAK RELATIONSHIPS

In her book ‘Mating in Captivity’ Esther Perel writes, “in our efforts to establish intimacy we often seek to eliminate otherness, thereby precluding the space necessary for desire to flourish”.

In my work as a relationship therapist I often see couples struggling with the differences which, during the first stages of romantic love, were the magnetic forces which drew them to each other. It is a baffling irony that the very same traits and qualities of a person initially desired so compellingly, can induce irritation, frustration and a general sense of discord where harmony once prevailed. Quite suddenly it can begin to feel that it is the differences in a couple that are more apparent than the similarities.

We come into a relationship as two individuals with our own personal history, ideas and expectations about relationships. This beginning phase is necessarily loaded with projections and fantasy so that we see the in the other what we want to see and are somewhat blinded to anything that might be less appealing. The ‘opposites attract’ adage is true here in the sense that often what we are seeking in the other is that which is lacking in ourselves. Phrases such as “It’s like we’ve known each other all our lives” belong to this intoxicating and rather addictive stage of romantic love. This strength of attraction is needed to counteract the powerful fears and insecurities that might prevent anyone from ever taking the risk to fall in love – not helpful where procreation is, in evolutionary terms, the required outcome.

As the couple get to know each other and the need to feel merged and ‘as one’ gives way to a more sustainable dynamic the original differences begin to reappear, but this time without the excitement and novelty of the beginning phase. The couple must somehow recover their sense of being individuals who enjoyed different interests and a separate world-view before they met. This is the point at which relationships can hit their first major obstacle as your partner’s habit of leaving their used underwear on the floor, which once seemed faintly amusing and charmingly different to the way you operate, begins to feel annoying and even disrespectful. Other, more profound differences of culture, interests and taste can also feel more prevalent once the initial gloss has faded.

To return to Esther Perel’s quote, these differences can create the necessary tension needed to maintain the desire so easily available during the early stages. As she says, couples will tend to seek intimacy through feeling close to one another even if it means trying to change or manipulate their partner into a more palatable version of who they really are. To turn this on its head and focus on really wanting to understand a partners’ difference and embrace this sense of the couple as two interdependent individuals can feel counter-intuitive but could provide the lifeblood for continued desire, attraction and a livelier relationship.

Feeling accepting and even energized by your partner’s uniquely different way of seeing the world could liberate you both from the patterns that might have become embedded into the fabric of the relationship through trying to negate the difference between you.

For more information on Couple counselling and invidual psychotherapy in London call 07740 535399

ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE

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You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

There is something quaintly naïve about the opening lines to the 1944 song ‘Accentuate the positive’ made famous by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, from an era when Gene Kelly gave us ‘Singing in the Rain’ and the film South Pacific featured the song ‘Happy Talk’. The innocence of such a simple message feels a little like blind optimism in an age where some degree of cynicism helps us to survive a low-level, pervasive sense of doom on all fronts: ecological, economical and societal.

But Bing and his colleagues were singing about a simple truth, the importance of which is being understood now through increased knowledge of how the brain and nervous system functions, namely, that making a conscious effort to Œlatch on to the affirmative¹ is important for our psychological well-being.

Take a moment now to try to recall some recent positive experiences from daily life. Trawl back through the memory bank of everyday experiences to see what you find and as you do so notice what you feel. It might be a meal you enjoyed, a compliment paid to you, something you felt a sense of achievement over. When you¹ve done that try recalling some recent negative experiences. For example; a critical comment made to you, an appointment you arrived late for, a task at work which didn¹t go well. As before, be aware of what you¹re feeling as you do so.

The chances are that the negative experiences held more of an emotional charge than the positive ones. They are likely to have lingered longer in the memory and there¹s a simple evolutionary explanation for this as Rick Hanson points out in his book ‘Buddha’s Brain’. Humans have evolved to prioritise avoidance over approach ­ when survival is at stake the need to avoid that which induces fear trumps the need to move towards what could be of value.

Our hunter/gatherer ancestors needed to learn from the traumatic experience of running away from a charging Lion or disappointment of failing in the days hunting expedition more than recalling the pleasant experiences of finding food that tasted good. That way they’d be more likely to take evasive action or improve their hunting skills and therefore their chances of survival. In short, our brains are hard wired to latch on to the negative. It explains why we can be so punishing to ourselves when we get things wrong. Most of us will at times subject ourselves to the kind of abuse we wouldn’t dare to direct at anyone else, for having made a simple mistake at work, burned the toast or missed the train.

This is problematic for modern life where such basic survival strategies are unnecessary. We are not living under the constant threat of attack from neighbouring tribes or fierce wild animals and food is plentiful, for most of us in the developed world, at least.

How can we consciously overcome this instinctual response by ‘accentuating the positive’ and accepting the wisdom of lessons learned when things don’t work out as we had hoped. Allowing pleasant, nourishing experiences to permeate our being requites awareness. It’s not just a simple case of deciding to be more positive.

It’s the simple everyday experiences that will make the difference. Here’s a suggestion to experiment with: Cast your mind back to the last holiday you had. Set the scene by remembering a pleasant and positive moment in detail; laying on a beach for example. Notice how it feels to recall the colours, sounds, smells and textures of this experience. The feeling of the sand and the sun’s warmth on your skin. The sound of the waves, the intensity of the colours of the sea and sky, immerse yourself as fully as you can into the memory. Really take it in. and notice how your body feels as you do so. Registering the slightest shifts in mood, the way you are breathing, to tensions in your body; every slightest resonance will mean you are making what is called an implicit memory. One that is embodied because you have taken the time let it fill your mind, body and spirit.

Not messing with mister in-between is a less helpful message. On the contrary, peaceful states of indifference, neutrality and generally feeling just OK are the most healthy and sustainable mood states for the majority of our waking hours. Over-excitement or prolonged states of euphoria are intensive on energy consumption both physical and psychological. Once the fuel runs out, a state of deflation will likely follow. As with gravity, what goes up must come down. Such pendulum-like mood swings are not conducive to a sense of balanced well-being and anything we can do in our day-to-day lives to maintain this grounded state (attention to breathing, for example) is considered good ‘mental hygiene’.

A more helpful lyric might be: Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative and don’t be afraid of mister in between!

For more information about psychotherapy in London with Simon Jacobs call 07740 535399

WELCOMING AN UNINVITED GUEST

rumi

“This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond”.
Rumi – translation by Coleman Barks

The relatively recent incorporation of mindfulness into therapeutic treatments for depression and related anxiety, draws from Buddhist thinking dating back 2,500 years. Described by The Oxford English dictionary as: “The state or quality of being mindful; attention; regard”, mindfulness can be a powerful tool to help combat the negative thought processes such as rumination, cathastrophising and self-criticism that are common to sufferers of depression. It helps to ground a person in the here and now, accepting what is, without avoidance, judgement or interpretation. To be mindful takes a certain discipline. For most of us, moment-to-moment awareness is a fleeting experience. For others it feels like a completely alien concept. it is actually a very human quality and refers simply to the act of becoming fully conscious, aware of our breath, our sensations, our feelings, and most challenging, our thoughts; not lost in thinking but aware of and slightly distanced from the busyness of the mind.

Rumi’s inspirational poem invites us to go further than merely becoming aware of our feelings, but to welcome them, even if they are ‘a crowd of sorrows’. This can seem perverse to those who come into therapy seeking to get as far away as possible from difficult emotions such as sadness, anger and fear.

Through our feelings and emotions we experience ourselves in the world and can orientate ourselves towards or away from what we want, love, despise, are enchanted or repulsed by. When primary emotions are layered beneath or complicated by thoughts and interpretations about, for example, sadness, then secondary emotions such as disappointment, despair, misery, gloom, the sort of moods often associated with depression, may become prevalent.

In depression the sufferer who feels sad will more than likely start thinking negatively; ‘I hate feeling this way’, ‘I am weak’, ‘I have nothing to feel sorry about – others are much worse off than me’, ‘who wants to spend time with a miserable so and so like me?’.

These self-reproachful, internal dialogues that perpetuate a sense of feeling down trodden and stuck are what needs to change as part of the process of combating depression.

Getting to know really know your emotions; these guests referred to in Rumi’s poem; acknowledging, inviting and even welcoming them, is an act of self-acceptance that can bring peace and reconcile the conflicting forces locked in an internal civil war. ‘Each has been sent as a guide from beyond’ the poem states. You did not invite these guests, they simply come as a natural response to what happens around us or have lingered in the unconscious for years, surfacing only when triggered. They are our essence, which, if turned away from the door, avoided or denied, will leave us feeling detached and empty.

Think of them as cartoon characters, animals, mythical figures… whatever helps you build a relationship with them based on interest and curiosity rather than judgement and self reproach. They may not all be pretty, but by welcoming and befriending your unexpected visitors, you can bring harmony to this guest house, to this being human.

For information on my London psychotherapy practice contact 07740 535399

 

MONDAY EVENING MEN’S GROUP

A new Monday evening men’s group will start on 16th April. Please contact me if you’re interested to join the group. It has been running for nearly 10 years, offering a unique space for men from all walks of life to grow, find a deeper meaning in their lives and work through personal issues alongside supportive male companions.

My experience as a therapist and facilitator to many hundreds of men is that all too often they have become isolated, coping with their struggles internally without supportive male friends. The consequences of this are often depression, anxiety, addictions and relationship problems.

The group offers a place to belong, to feel apart of a small community that is interested in you and might well understand the struggles you face having confronted similar concerns themselves.

I look forward to hearing from you if this sounds of interest.

THE MEN’S GROUP – 7 YEARS AND STILL CHUGGING ALONG

The men’s group I run in central London is in its 7th year. I think of it as a heavy, rusty, solid train that has seen years of reliable service. It stops at stations where those passengers who have completed the journey get off and those starting theirs, get on. Over 100 men have taken a journey on the train, some travelling only to the next station while others remain on board for the long haul. All these passengers are part of its story; men of different ages and cultures who want to understand and explore themselves; their lives, relationships, feelings and thoughts in the company of other men.

What’s the use of a men’s group and how could a man benefit from joining? Let’s take an example, fictitious but based loosely on the stories of men I have worked with. Steve emails me saying his wife, who has uncovered his affair with a colleague has given him an ultimatum, start therapy or our marriage is over. It transpires when we meet that this is not the first affair and that he is drinking and using cocaine. He has young children and doesn’t want to lose his family.

In this scenario I might suggest he has some individual sessions with me then joins the group. A man like Steve will have few friends who really know him. He doesn’t talk to his drinking buddies about what’s really going on in him and because of the secret life he has cultivated, he tends not to tell his wife what he’s feeling and thinking either  At out first session Steve realises how isolated he is as he hears himself say “no one really knows me”.   I would go further to say that he doesn’t really know himself. His adult life has largely been spent in autopilot mode. Doing what he thought he should without reflecting or questioning what is right for him. Existing in this numbed state he starts transgressing boundaries and self-destructive, or what he might refer to as risky behavior. It’s the child-like rebellion of a man who is unaware of how resentful he feels about a life he hasn’t really chosen. And each time he gets away with it, the more addicted he becomes to living on the edge.

Men come together in the group to discover the parts they have hidden and denied; to dare to confront the aspects of self that have been long buried for fear of how they’ll be judged, disapproved of and rejected by others. Steve has been doing this for decades. He starts making connections, piecing together his disjointed sense of himself, recovering feelings he learned to suppress as a child in the face of a mother who loved him conditionally and reinforced by a wife who wasn’t let close enough to see the vulnerability and insecurity lurking beneath a polished exterior. Jung described these denied aspects of self as our shadow. In many men these dark places host a wounded soul which can operate out of awareness, reeking havoc for himself and those around him.

In the men’s group this part is encouraged and welcomed. Once sufficient trust has been established, some light can be shone into these dark places of the soul. It can feel exposing because it is, quite literally, an exposure. Learning to tolerate the discomfort of being fully seen by others in this contained environment is the healing process. The man who commits to this process knows himself more fully and can finally be himself, a more integrated person who understands his motivations and can take responsibility for his actions.

This story is of course not representative of every man who joins the group, but it’s a familiar tale and if there is a common thread running through most men’s stories, it is the sense of isolation, not being known or understood by others and by himself. 

03stations1

The men’s group I run in central London is in its 7th year. I think of it as a heavy, rusty, solid train that has seen years of reliable service. It stops at stations where those passengers who have completed the journey get off and those starting theirs, get on. Over 100 men have taken a journey on the train, some travelling only to the next station while others remain on board for the long haul. All these passengers are part of its story; men of different ages and cultures who want to understand and explore themselves; their lives, relationships, feelings and thoughts in the company of other men.

What’s the use of a men’s group and how could a man benefit from joining? Let’s take an example, fictitious but based loosely on the stories of men I have worked with. Steve emails me saying his wife, who has uncovered his affair with a colleague has given him an ultimatum, start therapy or our marriage is over. It transpires when we meet that this is not the first affair and that he is drinking and using cocaine. He has young children and doesn’t want to lose his family.

In this scenario I might suggest he has some individual sessions with me then joins the group. A man like Steve will have few friends who really know him. He doesn’t talk to his drinking buddies about what’s really going on in him and because of the secret life he has cultivated, he tends not to tell his wife what he’s feeling and thinking either  At out first session Steve realises how isolated he is as he hears himself say “no one really knows me”.   I would go further to say that he doesn’t really know himself. His adult life has largely been spent in autopilot mode. Doing what he thought he should without reflecting or questioning what is right for him. Existing in this numbed state he starts transgressing boundaries and self-destructive, or what he might refer to as risky behavior. It's the child-like rebellion of a man who is unaware of how resentful he feels about a life he hasn't really chosen. And each time he gets away with it, the more addicted he becomes to living on the edge.

Men come together in the group to discover the parts they have hidden and denied; to dare to confront the aspects of self that have been long buried for fear of how they’ll be judged, disapproved of and rejected by others. Steve has been doing this for decades. He starts making connections, piecing together his disjointed sense of himself, recovering feelings he learned to suppress as a child in the face of a mother who loved him conditionally and reinforced by a wife who wasn’t let close enough to see the vulnerability and insecurity lurking beneath a polished exterior. Jung described these denied aspects of self as our shadow. In many men these dark places host a wounded soul which can operate out of awareness, reeking havoc for himself and those around him.

In the men’s group this part is encouraged and welcomed. Once sufficient trust has been established, some light can be shone into these dark places of the soul. It can feel exposing because it is, quite literally, an exposure. Learning to tolerate the discomfort of being fully seen by others in this contained environment is the healing process. The man who commits to this process knows himself more fully and can finally be himself, a more integrated person who understands his motivations and can take responsibility for his actions.

This story is of course not representative of every man who joins the group, but it's a familiar tale and if there is a common thread running through most men's stories, it is the sense of isolation, not being known or understood by others and by himself. 

TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT….

When a person starts therapy they feel that something isn’t right; a depression, a dysfunctional relationship, a lack of self-belief. Some aspect of life feels out of balance and a desire to redress this prompts them to seek help. The therapist entrusted with this situation will need to agree with their client what the problem is before the process can unfold. This understanding of the situation is a critical aspect of the beginning of therapy and may require the client to confront painful truths about themselves and most importantly to know what they want from life. Without it therapy is in danger of becoming an aimless ramble towards nowhere in particular.

I am not making a case for solution-focused therapy per se, but more to underline the importance of a ‘brief’ for therapy; an understanding of a direction towards which a person wants to move in their life. This may include goals, behavioural changes, re-framing, widening of perspectives,significant life-changes and so on. But underneath it, the motivation will be a want/need.

The pressures to conform to the expectations of family, religion, class and culture so that we lose touch with or have not gained an awareness of our desires and values, make it surprisingly difficult to ascertain these essential truths about ourselves. A client who says they ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘have to’ do something reveals a struggle in themselves with such expectations. It can be empowering just to hear oneself swapping these words for ‘I choose’, ‘I prefer’ or ‘I want’.  Knowing these wants and needs comes from an embodied sense of ourselves. They are not simply thoughts or ideas that spring from nowhere but are felt in the same way as when we describe knowing what’s right for us as a ‘gut instinct’. 

The wider field of psychological exploration seems increasingly to be incorporating an understanding of the body (including the brain) into its methodologies. The dramatic rise of mindfulness, a technique which requires awareness of mind, body and spirit, as a treatment for depression and anxiety, reflects this.

The exploration of this vast question, ‘what do you want?’, as a starting point for therapy, must then take account of what a person is thinking, imagining, feeling and sensing within their entire being. It is an approach that as a gestalt therapist, is at the heart of what I believe constitutes effective psychotherapy and coaching.

When a person starts therapy they feel that something isn’t right; a depression, a dysfunctional relationship, a lack of self-belief. Some aspect of life feels out of balance and a desire to redress this prompts them to seek help. The therapist entrusted with this situation will need to agree with their client what the problem is before the process can unfold. This understanding of the situation is a critical aspect of the beginning of therapy and may require the client to confront painful truths about themselves and most importantly to know what they want from life. Without it therapy is in danger of becoming an aimless ramble towards nowhere in particular.

I am not making a case for solution-focused therapy per se, but more to underline the importance of a ‘brief’ for therapy; an understanding of a direction towards which a person wants to move in their life. This may include goals, behavioural changes, re-framing, widening of perspectives,significant life-changes and so on. But underneath it, the motivation will be a want/need.

The pressures to conform to the expectations of family, religion, class and culture so that we lose touch with or have not gained an awareness of our desires and values, make it surprisingly difficult to ascertain these essential truths about ourselves. A client who says they ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘have to’ do something reveals a struggle in themselves with such expectations. It can be empowering just to hear oneself swapping these words for ‘I choose’, 'I prefer' or ‘I want’.  Knowing these wants and needs comes from an embodied sense of ourselves. They are not simply thoughts or ideas that spring from nowhere but are felt in the same way as when we describe knowing what’s right for us as a ‘gut instinct’. 

The wider field of psychological exploration seems increasingly to be incorporating an understanding of the body (including the brain) into its methodologies. The dramatic rise of mindfulness, a technique which requires awareness of mind, body and spirit, as a treatment for depression and anxiety, reflects this.

The exploration of this vast question, ‘what do you want?’, as a starting point for therapy, must then take account of what a person is thinking, imagining, feeling and sensing within their entire being. It is an approach that as a gestalt therapist, is at the heart of what I believe constitutes effective psychotherapy and coaching.